Employers providing employees with benefits subject to ERISA have a duty to provide accurate benefit information to employees. As with many areas of ERISA, the definition of “inaccurate” information and the consequences to employers for providing inaccurate information has been unclear. The United States Supreme Court addressed this gray area of ERISA in CIGNA Corp. v.Amara, 131 S. Ct. 1866 (2011), finding that employees may be entitled to “appropriate equitable relief” for inaccurate statements about benefits, even if the plan document itself is accurate.
In CIGNA v. Amara, the Court found that harmed employees may obtain equitable relief under ERISA § 502(a)(3) not only for violations of plan terms, but also for failing to furnish a summary plan description that is “sufficiently accurate and comprehensive to reasonably apprise such participants and beneficiaries of their rights and obligations under the plan,” or failing to furnish a new summary plan description adopting a modification or significant benefit reduction in the terms of the plan.
Although the Court declined to articulate the appropriate standard of harm to determine an employee’s entitlement to relief, the decision commented that Congress did not intend to impose a rigorous standard of proving harm to obtain relief, and discussed available remedies to provide the employees with benefits consistent with the information provided to them, including reforming contracts, equitable estoppel, and prevention of unjust enrichment by imposition of a surcharge against the trustee to make the harmed party whole.
For more information, please see the GT Alert — Supreme Court Identifies Remedies Under ERISA for Employees Harmed by Misinformation.